Michael O’Neill plays John Obi Mikel question with straight bat as Stoke City close in on fourth signing



Michael O’Neill deftly sidestepped the big question on John Obi Mikel.

Free agent Mikel is expected to become Stoke City ‘s fourth signing of the summer after having talks over recent days.

The 33-year-old left Trabzonspor in March and is keen on a return to England, with O’Neill hoping to bring in dashes of quality – particularly as he waits for Joe Allen (ruptured Achilles) to come through the final stages of rehabilitation ahead of a condensed and hectic season.

But O’Neill, fresh from overseeing a 1-0 win over Linfield in Stoke’s first friendly of pre-season this afternoon, was staying tight lipped about any deal.

“Well, we’ve had discussions,” he said. “We won’t say any more than that on that at the moment.”

Stoke brought in Morgan Fox in their first deal, filling the left-back vacancy with the Wales defender who had left Sheffield Wednesday at the end of June.

James Chester arrived at the start of this week, back on a permanent deal after spending the second half of last season on loan from Aston Villa, where he had served as captain but been released at the end of the term.

Steven Fletcher made it a hat-trick of free agents when he sealed a move yesterday.

The 33-year-old striker, who was Fox’s teammate at Sheffield Wednesday, had been chased by Celtic after scoring 13 last season despite missing a chunk of action through injury.

O’Neill said after completing that deal: “I’ve known Steven for a long time, since he first broke into the team at Hibernian. He’s a player I’ve always liked; I’ve watched his career with interest and wherever he has been he has done well and scored goals.

“I know how important he was to Sheffield Wednesday last season and it’s no coincidence that they had a difficult second half of the season when injury took Steven out of the team so I think it’s a really positive signing for us.”

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